The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is about 45 minutes long, and feels like it was written for that long. It’s a sweet, silly tribute to the spirit of Christmas, starring a couple of quirky Marvel characters. That is it. But strangely enough this Holiday Special is does not negligible. In its own thrown way, it is quite important for the future Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Although it may not be very memorable, it is important to see Marvel fans who want to be prepared for what’s to come Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
That’s because it makes some drastic changes to the status quo for a few of the characters and even to the Guardians team as a whole. (I’ll do my best not to spoil the how.) Some of these developments have already happened before the special even begins, with the Guardians back at Knowhere, the outpost in space constructed from the head of a dead celestial that appeared in the first Guardians movie. With Christmas approaching, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) continues to mourn the loss of Gamora, who died in Avengers: Infinity War. His teammates Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) decides to cheer him up by finding him the perfect Christmas present.
Because Mantis and Drax are eccentric aliens, they decide that’s what Peter really wants for the holidays Kevin Bacon (as himself), a “hero” of Earth that Star-Lord talks about a lot. And because Mantis and Drax are eccentric aliens with no concept of personality, they seem to have no qualms about kidnapping this sentient being and giving him as a gift to their good friend. And then they go to Earth in search of Kevin Bacon, with stops along the way at Grauman’s Chinese Theater and a Hollywood nightclub. (The other Guardians — Karen Gillan’s Nebula, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, Vin Diesel’s Groot and Sean Gunn’s Kraglin — make brief appearances in what are essentially cameo roles.)
Writer/Director James Gunn at least provides some big laughs, mostly by seeing Christmas customs through the Guardians’ warped and confused perspectives. And in the style of many TV Christmas specials over the years, there are a few cozy musical numbers, provided by the band The Old 97s. And… that’s about all this show is about. Bautista and Klementieff, the true stars of the special, seem to be having a lot of fun, but their performances are wildly over the top, to the point where they barely feel in line with the previous Guardians movie. (Both scream at least 30 percent of their dialogue at full volume.)
Clearly, no one took this thing very seriously, and neither should the viewer. And yet, creeping around the edges of this very sparse story are revelations about the Guardians that are sure to pay off in big ways in Guardians Vol. 3. And if you don’t see this Holiday Special, you will probably be a little confused when they are mentioned there. Frankly, their inclusion is a little confusing here. Some changes to the team and characters are dropped so matter-of-factly into the dialogue that I wondered if they were previously established in other Marvel movies and series and I had forgotten about them until now.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is certainly not a disaster or an embarrassment like the notorious one Star Wars Holiday Special which certainly provided some of the whimsical inspiration for this Marvel production. But it is so poor that you sense that very little time or effort has been spent on it. And actually I just found one interview where James Gunn openly admits that he wrote the entire script in “a few hours”. It doesn’t surprise me at all.